By Jim Romeo

We have all seen better days.

But could a new way of doing business in the trade press be a latent win-win? Could the bylined feature article, contributed Q-and-A article, or other contributed feature article be an unexploited pathway for advertisers, editors, publishers and freelance writers?

Freelancers are scraping. So are advertisers. And so are many editors. So is there anything that can be done besides sit and brood and hope that this dip in the road doesn’t last forever?

Perhaps a new paradigm could emerge: contributed content by the would-be advertiser who hires a freelance writer to write it. Here’s how it works. A firm that is tightening its belt just can’t afford the same advertising budget until its orders improve and the overall economy improves. But it still wants to market its goods and services. So the firm pitches editors in the trade press, offering to author a feature article about a particular topic which may fit an editorial calendar or trending theme for the publication. The editor bites and says okay, but no sales puffery.

The firm hires the freelance writer at a fraction of the advertising page rate. The freelancer is happy, as even a fraction of the page rate is a decent rate — somewhere in the $1.25-to-$1.50-per-word rate. The writer researches and interviews the firm to create a feature that informs while providing the company a byline in a trade magazine for its industry.

The firm is happy. After all, it got two to three pages of space; even got photos of its business leader or product or service in action. The freelancer is happy, as they got a fatter check than the publication would have paid.

Now is the editor happy? While it’s true the publication didn’t get the advertising dollars, they did get free content and they didn’t have to write it, or do much in the way of art direction for it. Readers get the benefit of the article right from the perspective of the firm that solved a problem, or managed some notable task that readers like to read about.

The above scenario is played out all the time. What I described, I have been a part of many times. It seems like it takes something away from true-blue editorial, but I’m sorry, it works.

Some editors might say “Hey, it’s fine, as long as they don’t puff it up and make it an advertorial.” That can be easily done. A case study, or exposé of the product or service in action, sells itself without much sales puffery. The byline or bio at the end of the article is all that’s needed. As for the foregone advertising dollars — well, that firm now has a relationship with the magazine. A new, very lucrative possibility has been created. The soil is well cultivated for the ad sales staff to court that firm for years down the road as a result of that article. The firm that touts the article that they placed and produced, for not that much money, is a good candidate to buy advertising in the future, or buy other media such as a webinar or podcast that can be used to build its brand, which was initially built in that contributed article. This is real value for the publication as well.

And let’s not forget the reader. That reader gets to hear a case study. They get to read about somebody else’s problems for a change. Everyone loves to read about how someone had this major undertaking and read in 1,500 words, how a firm built a team, and implemented the latest and greatest solution that looked so daunting. The reader gets first-hand information that can drive their own business model.

All of the above is not as clockwork as I may describe, but in tough times, there must be ways to make lemons out of lemonade, and this just may be worth a closer look. Contributed content via the bylined feature article, such as a case study or even a Q and A on a hot topic, adds value — to the firm, the freelancer, the publication, and, of course, the reader.

Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, Virginia. He is a mechanical engineer with and MBA and writes about business and technology. His new leaf in 2010 is to network more and start calling himself a technology evangelist because it sounds cool!,